“Schlaglicht Israel” offers an insight into internal Israeli debates and reflects selected, political events that affect daily life in Israel. It appears every two weeks and summarizes articles that appeared in the Israeli daily press.
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Main topics covered in this Publication:
1. Anti-Semitism on the rise
Anti-Semitism in yellow vests
These are dark days for France, days that are giving rise to questions about the future of France’s Jews. (…) we are becoming used to shouts, attacks, and violence. They have become routine. (…) On the internet, we are witnessing a tsunami of hatred. (…) The numbers are astonishing. Figures indicate a 74% rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2018 after a 26% rise in 2017. Seventy-five years after the Holocaust, not much has changed. The only thing that is different is the existence of Israel – a true defense for all Jews in the Diaspora and a life insurance policy. As a member of the French parliament and a Jew, I am worried mainly for France itself. (…) It doesn’t matter if it’s the Left or the extreme Right – hatred of Israel has become a calling card for those who hate Jews. The hypocrisy reaches new heights when we hear far-left parties defending the recent anti-Semitic incidents. These are the same parties that advocate boycotts of Israel and laud terrorists in street demonstrations. All this is happening as France boycotts the Warsaw summit, which is effectively a meeting about countering Iran. Where is the logic? How can we roll out the red carpet for a regime that espouses hatred of Jews and hatred of Israel, while at the same time condemning anti-Semitism at home? Our leaders are right to worry about the rise in anti-Semitism but, paradoxically, they are trying at all costs to normalize our relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a jihadist regime that unceasingly calls to “wipe Israel off the map” and seeks to perpetrate a second Holocaust.
Meyer Habib, IHY, 18.02.19
Beyond populism and anti-Semitism
(…) The waves of populism and anti-Semitism are currently creating a new liberal utopia known as essentialism – which is a fresh form of communism that aspires to end human suffering caused by inequality. (…) Anti-Semitism was used to erase Jewish culture, which was perceived as a foundation of the world’s old moral structure. The communist threat toward the bourgeoisie and nationalism was the main culprit behind the flood of populism in the previous century, which instead of sparking a defense of nationalism gave birth to the rise of fascism, which culminated in Nazism. In order to impose their “morality,” the Nazis sought to eradicate Judaism by perpetrating genocide against the Jewish people. (…) The politics of multinationalism, multiculturalism and free immigration obligate the giver to surrender his identity in terms of gender, nationality, culture and history. In response, waves of popular resistance have swelled to create the Brexit crisis in the United Kingdom, the wall controversy in the United States, and yellow vest protests in France, and have strengthened right-wing nationalist parties across Europe. For now, the nature of this populistic wave is oriented toward the defense of the nation-state and therefore is also friendly to Israel. But with the continuing ascent of essentialism, it is also possible that it, too, will become offensive in nature and attack, with its leaders propagating utopian illusions akin to Nazism. (…) since classic anti-Semitism is currently out of fashion, it is channeling its hatred of Jews to the State of Israel, whose insistence on constitutionally defending itself as a nation-state is a veritable call to arms. Just as anti-Semitism functioned as a bridge between the contrasting utopias of communism and Nazism – today, too, it bridges between enlightened essentialist liberals and boorish Muslim extremists in their joint struggle to delegitimize Israel. (…) The fight against the current wave of anti-Semitism needs to be spearheaded by Israel. (…) Formulating a strategic plan to wage a cultural battle of this sort is an unprecedented intellectual challenge shared by Israel and Jews in the Diaspora.
Dr. Hanan Shai, IHY, 20.02.19
France isn’t ready to truly combat anti-Semitism
(…) The situation in France is not going to get any better. (…) What hasn’t worked in the past will not work now. France’s handling of anti-Semitism is misguided and French Jews have had enough of declarations. They do not need another protest march that condemns what is bad and praises what is good. Last week’s march included figures who lack any understanding of the matter. For the Green Party representatives, it was just another stage on which to virtue signal ahead of the elections. As far as they are concerned, anti-Semitism is merely an unpleasant matter, but nothing to get too excited about. (…) many participants stubbornly ignore the fact that anti-Semitism has become embedded among certain segments of French society. (…) An appropriate response requires that the reality be confronted. Public discourse cannot continue to approach the subject as merely a universal expression of hatred of the other. Bold journalism should not be afraid of exposing the background of perpetrators of such crimes. Finding appropriate solutions requires acknowledging that today’s anti-Semitism has passed from the extreme right to radical Islam. This is an open secret, but proponents of identity politics insist on minimizing and diluting it, thus preventing confronting the problem head on. Furthermore, the plight of the Jews in France is not detached from attitudes towards the Jewish state. The Yellow Vest protesters who attacked the Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut in Paris (…) yelled slogans unrelated to the protest they were part of. Their cries of “Palestine” and “Zionist garbage” exposed what it is that bothers them about the Jews. In that respect, France is fertile ground for such unsubstantiated accusations and legitimacy for violence. No wonder it is ultimately aimed at the Jewish community. (…)
Nicolas Nissim Touboul, YED, 24.02.19
Aliyah is the only answer
(…) Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich, who was brutally attacked inside his home, Monday, is the rabbi of AMIA. The attack serves as a reminder of the injustice in Argentina. While police are “investigating” the incident, one mustn’t be confused: Davidovich is a well-known figure in the country. Even the alleged “robbers” would have known full-well who he was. Displays of anti-Semitism are nothing new in Argentina. Even in the big cities, there are Jews who wear kippahs only once they have entered a synagogue in order not to stick out. (…) Social media networks are an anthropological tool that can help us understand society. I was shocked at what I read in the comments section of a report on the attack on Davidovich in Argentina’s largest newspaper, Clarín. Comments like, “He deserved it,” “He earned it,” and “Jews, go to Venezuela” are the more refined exampled I can reference here. (…) In Israel, terrorists know that the security forces will get to them sooner or later, and they aren’t going to get away with their crimes. In Argentina, 25 years after the terrorist attack on the Jewish community and 27 years after the murderous attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, members of the community continue to demand justice, which most likely will never come. Even Davidovich knows the chances of his attackers being apprehended are slim to none. There is only one answer to this problem: aliyah.
Ariel Schmidberg, IHY, 27.02.19
Has the Jewish state forgotten to fight the anti-Semitic far right?
(…) The injunction to “treat the stranger justly” appears 36 times in the Torah, more often than any other commandment. Those qualities of justice and solidarity distinguished Abraham, who cared for the strangers who visited his tent, from the people of Sodom, who attacked them, and faced divine punishment. (…) we see the current government of our Jewish state, and some of our Jewish institutions, giving succour to those who discriminate against other vulnerable communities. In Europe, it is a fearful reality that the far-right is gaining power and popularity and that the survival of liberal democracy is no longer self-evident. (…) Yet Israel, the place to which we, as Zionists, are deeply connected, has a government which not only tolerates these views, but invites their most prominent representatives to summits, not least the Visegrad Group, whose aspiration is a Europe of “illiberal democracies.” (…) Israel’s prime minister lauded the election of Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro (…). The recent co-option of the racist Arab-baiting Kahanist political tradition into the Knesset is nothing less than an endorsement of the subjugation of the rights of others to the rights of Jewish people. Having struggled for thousands of years against those seeking to remove our rights, getting into bed with the far right in our own state is nothing short of an insult to our history and our Zionism as well as hypocrisy of the highest level. We understand states seek to protect their interests through realpolitik and pragmatism. But support for, or tolerance of the far-right, is alarmingly short-sighted. (…) If there is any chance of eliminating discrimination against Jews and non-Jews alike, we must first look at ourselves. (…)
Benjamin (Bini) Guttmann, Hannah Rose, HAA, 28.02.19
2. Israeli Knesset Elections
The Left is right about unity
The more steam this election builds up, the greater the chances that it will be decided by the votes that are lost on parties that fail to pass the minimum electoral threshold. (…) As the smaller camp, the Left was the first to recognize the danger. (…) The Left needs all the votes in its camp to win and it can only hope that the Right will waste as many as possible. At least the first part of that formula seems to be succeeding: All sectors of the Israeli Left now understand that fringe parties could cause an electoral crash. (…) The mergers that have already taken place there, as well as the ones that are expected, hint at a single purpose – to keep votes from being lost on parties that do not make it past the minimum threshold. (…) In sharp contrast, parts of the Israeli Right continue to wage battles for small numbers of votes, thereby putting a victory by the right-wing camp in danger. Small right-wing parties with no chance of making it into the Knesset running in the election is political stupidity and a betrayal of the will of the voters. Those who might vote for the far-right Otzma Yehudit or Eli Yishai’s Yachad party might want to see representatives of their parties in the Knesset but they certainly have no desire to watch the Right as a whole fall and see the Left’s crazy ideas restored to the seat of power and decision-making. Now is the time to put ego and ideological purity aside. The only consideration that should guide right-wing party heads in assembling their Knesset lists is the obligation to maximize the nationalist camp’s power in the next Knesset.
Ariel Bolstein, IHY, 19.02.19
Livni’s final act of decency
(…) There was nothing embarrassing, unpleasant, or uninspiring in the tears she shed as she did so. Greater politicians have done it (…) You do not have to be a left-winger to respect what Livni did. (…) Livni’s attempts to touch the voters’ hearts (…) did not succeed. Livni is not a woman of simple slogans or catchy messages. (…) It is much simpler to brand person a leftist than to try to understand their motives and beliefs. Livni tried for long months to bring unity to the center-left bloc, and finally found herself unwanted by those very parties in which she could have found a political home. (…) she knew which way the winds blowing with Gantz and Lapid. And instead of insisting that the polls were not an accurate reflection of reality, that Election Day was the true decider, and dragging the saga of her failing party out until April 9, she did the most decent thing that can be expected of a politician. She simply said: I do not have enough votes, and if I insist on standing I might waste precious ballots. So you can believe her tears were real. They were not only for herself, but also for what she sees around her. And that really is something to cry about.
Sima Kadmon, YED, 19.02.19
Kahane returns to the Knesset
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lust for power knows no limits. (…) under the sponsorship of a prime minister who is prepared to sacrifice every principle and smash every institution in his battle to entrench his regime, the followers of Kahane will return to the Knesset riding like the Messiah on the donkey of religious Zionism. (…) Otzma Yehudit is the political home of Kahane’s students and admirers, extreme Arab-haters who believe in Jewish supremacy (…) even National Union head Bezalel Smotrich, a racist nationalist, opposed the link demonstrates how bad the Kahanists are. It’s ironic that the party that considers itself a bastion of morality has turned itself into the door through which despicable racists and violent nationalists will enter the Knesset. All the talk about the need to create a “technical bloc” to “prevent the loss of seats on the right” cannot blur the “moral” choice made by religious Zionism, Netanyahu and the right-wing bloc. This is chilling proof of the direction the right is taking, led by Netanyahu. Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg announced that if Habayit Hayehudi submits a slate with Otzma Yehudit candidates on it, her party will petition the Central Elections Committee to disqualify it. Otzma Yehudit should not be allowed to run.
Editorial, HAA, 21.02.19
(…) The Blue and White Party (…) has only two women in the top 10 spots on its list. (…) The merger of the two male-heavy parties, and the addition of Gabi Ashkenazi to the list (…) left the party with fewer women in high-ranking positions. (…) the Blue and White Party is far from being the worst offender in Israeli politics. Likud also has only two women in its top 10 spots, and just three in the first 20 spots on its list. By contrast, Blue and White has six women in its top 20. (…) This is unfortunate for a country that prides itself in having had a female prime minister – Golda Meir – in the 1970s. Israel sadly seems like it might be moving backwards in terms of equal and fair representation. One way to rectify the situation, would be by banning parties that discriminate against women, like Shas and UTJ, thereby forcing them to add women to their lists. Gender equality is one of the tenets that does that. Another way to change this is for people to make sure their voices are heard on April 9. One way to potentially do that is to vote for parties with female representation. Another way is to demand already now that no matter who wins, the next prime minister needs to promise that he will appoint an equal number of women ministers as he appoints male ministers. Israel is often looked at as a role model for the world in being the only democracy in the Middle East, but also for creating a unique culture of innovation that exists in the world’s only Jewish state. Having proper and equal female participation should be part of Israel’s story. These elections can be an opportunity to make sure that message is heard loud and clear by the country’s political leaders.
Editorial, JPO, 23.02.19
(…) Netanyahu has made statements indicating he is skeptical about Palestinian statehood. (…) But he hasn’t turned around and renounced his own policy – until now. (…) Netanyahu is currently trying to court as many right-wing voters as possible. This included offering a generous sweetener to Bayit Yehudi in exchange for its inclusion of the extremist Otzma Yehudit in its slate for the election, and involves distancing himself from his past willingness to make concessions toward the Palestinians. But voters haven’t forgotten his handshakes with former PLO leader Yasser Arafat (…) They won’t forget the Bar-Ilan speech, either. (…) Ideally, Likud would release a platform telling voters exactly where it stands on all major issues. Since it hasn’t done that since 2009, they’ll likely go into another election without a platform. But it would behoove the party to, at the very least, make it amply clear where it stands on the issues about which their leader, Netanyahu, has been making public statements. This also applies to the Blue and White Party. Among the list’s top three, Gantz has only made vague statements; Lapid has been in favor of a Palestinian state while preserving major settlement blocs; and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon has vehemently opposed a Palestinian state and has advocated for building more settlements. Constant flip-flopping without a clear stance is unfair in a democracy. Voters are left with mixed messages on where our prime ministerial candidates stand on matters of life-or-death for many Israelis and Palestinians – and one that is imminently pressing in light of US President Donald Trump’s own peace plan, set to be presented in the coming months. (…) We need clarity from Netanyahu and Gantz on their positions regarding a two-state solution.
Editorial, JPO, 24.02.19
Kahanism: Last refuge of a scoundrel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said, in response to polls predicting success for the new Kahol Lavan party, that party leaders “[Benny] Gantz and [Yair] Lapid are relying on a blocking majority of Arab parties that are working to destroy the State of Israel.” That’s the essence of the ruling party’s talking points (…). It’s incredible that such racist and base incitement is a common feature in the rhetoric of Israel’s prime minister (…). This racist incitement befits the person who, through a cynical political deal, is bringing Otzma Yehudit, the ideological heirs and admirers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, into the Knesset. (…) A democratic state cannot tolerate organized and blatant incitement by the prime minister against a minority that constitutes 20 percent of the population and its elected leadership. (…) It is unfortunate that those who see themselves as an alternative to Netanyahu’s racist, xenophobic and anti-democratic regime are distancing themselves in a panic from the Arab parties. (…) Netanyahu, who isn’t even trying to display a semblance of statesmanship or fairness, is an expert in wallowing in racist slime and engaging in sewer politics. (…) If the Kahol Lavan party seeks to establish a new agenda here, it must erect a strong barrier against the Kahanist fist that has seized control of the ruling party and its leader. Israeli Arab citizens and their elected representatives are a legitimate and important part of Israeli society. Cooperating with them is not some indecent act, but a welcome and desirable step.
Editorial, HAA, 25.02.19
That Kahanist merger is very bad, but not as bad as you think
The good news (…) is that despite its self-identified status as the party of Religious Zionists, Jewish Home hasn’t really represented the broader religious Zionist public for some time, and its mistake now may present an opportunity for renewal and rejuvenation within this sector. (…) Jewish Home (…) has roots in the Mizrachi movement, which represented the original Religious Zionist movement well before the State of Israel was founded in 1948. However, the majority of Religious Zionists today don’t actually vote for the party. (…) Much of the national-religious public at large, unlike the Haredi public, does not apparently see a great need to be represented by a party aligned with their own sect. This may stem from people not identifying with its eclectic mix of religion and nationalistic public policy, or because it prefers supporting larger parties like Likud that will ensure a right-wing prime minister. Much of the Religious Zionist public is largely integrated socially and economically within broader Israeli society and does not feel that its own interests need special representation. The Religious Zionist community serves in the army and workforce at the same rates as the general population, and many Religious Zionists prefer integration in the political realm as well. (…) because Jewish Home continues to claim to represent the beliefs and interests of Religious Zionists, its merger with a racist group has raised the ire of so many people, including those who question what it says about the state of the broader Religious Zionist movement. Jewish Home made a mistake, yet the logic behind its decision reflects more about the party itself and less about the beliefs of Religious Zionists. (…) judicious religious Zionists need to make clear what has been quietly known for some time: The religious Zionist political parties do not truly represent them (…). Our votes should show that parties running under the banner of ideology do not deserve support when they compromise core values and don’t represent their alleged constituents.
Shlomo Brody, TOI, 27.02.19
3. New row with Poland
Israel’s foreign relations under attack
(…) It’s easy to understand the Poles’ frustration: They took a substantial diplomatic risk when they agreed to host the Warsaw conference on Middle East security, aimed at sending the world a message that the Middle East stands united against the subversive efforts of the Iranian regime. The conference was aimed at promoting U.S. policy on and Israeli interests concerning Iran. By hosting the conference, Poland sided with Washington and Jerusalem against the European Union, which continues to adhere to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. But instead of focusing on what really matters, the Israeli media has focused its attention on the Poles’ role in Nazi crimes by misquoting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (…) it is not just the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust that is driving certain officials’ criticism and rage against Poland, but rather an explicit desire to damage Warsaw’s close relationship with Jerusalem. No wonder those same people who seek to torpedo the warm relationship between Netanyahu and the Polish, Hungarian, Austrian, Italian and Czech governments are promoting an agenda that would see Europe meddle in Israel’s internal affairs. What we have here is an alignment of interests: Members of the Israeli Center-Left will do anything to harm Netanyahu (…); the EU, which is also interested in regime change in Israel in order to promote its Palestinian project, is interested in weakening the right-wing governments of Europe’s “wild East.” These reckless politicians and media figures have created a volatile situation between Jerusalem and Warsaw. And the Poles are now wondering whether they should participate in a conference of the Visegrád Group countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia), set to be held in Beersheba this week, a conference that was to be a significant achievement and an expression of the member states’ recognition of Israel’s special status.
Eldad Beck, IHY, 17.02.19
With Poland, Netanyahu discovers the limits of playing with history
Sometimes it is hard to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu grew up in the home of a historian (…) the prime minister’s view of contemporary Jewish history has lost all nuance. It has a few basic rules. Those he sees as Israel’s enemies were either responsible for the original Holocaust or are planning a new one. (…) The flip side is that nations whose wartime governments or citizens actually did turn a blind eye or actively collaborate with Nazi Germany in persecuting, deporting and murdering Jews in the Holocaust will have their history whitewashed by Netanyahu if they are currently politically aligned with him. Poland, Hungary and Lithuania, have all been laundered by the Prime Minister of History. (…) supporters (those who don’t just parrot his line) explain that this is simply necessary “realpolitik.” Netanyahu needs these countries to counterbalance the European Union foreign policy in his favor, so making some compromises is worthwhile. But the problem with this argument, beyond the moral implications, is that realpolitik is about politics, not rewriting history. (…)
Anshel Pfeffer, HAA, 18.02.19
The anatomy of a diplomatic crisis
(…) on Sunday night, newly appointed acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz went on TV and decided to deepen the crisis with Warsaw. (…) it wasn’t immediately clear why the Poles decided from the beginning to turn what Netanyahu had said into a crisis. (…) Adding insult to injury, Netanyahu made his comments while in Warsaw – on the same day that he had received a huge gift from Poland in the form of its hosting the Middle East summit. From their perspective, giving Netanyahu a stage to sit on alongside foreign ministers from Yemen, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain should have been appreciated in a more thoughtful way, especially when considering that Poland went against the rest of Europe by agreeing to host the conference. Talking about Polish collaboration during the Holocaust was not how they expected Netanyahu to show his gratitude. (…) Some of what they claim is legitimate. Poland did not have a government during World War II, and could not have collaborated with Nazi Germany on a state or national level. Were there murderers among the Poles? Sadly, yes. But as the forest at Yad Vashem shows, there were also 6,863 Polish “Righteous Among the Nations,” the most of any other country. (…) Poland is an important ally for Israel in Europe. (…) And while the stifling of debate over our tragic history is concerning, we need to recognize that life is complex. (…)
Jaakov Katz, JPO, 22.02.19
Poland vs Israel: Who’s really winning the war over Holocaust history?
(…) Last year’s conflagration was primarily the fault of Poland, which passed its ill-conceived memory law on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, and then compounded this with insensitive remarks from senior figures (…). But this time around it is the Israeli side that has set the blaze. (…) anti-Semitism was, and still is, a problem in Poland (…) some Poles were responsible for Jewish deaths during the war. But such generalisations are not the way to acknowledge or address this, and Katz’s comments were widely condemned by Jewish groups in Poland and the U.S. The fallout from this could have been contained. Yet instead it was compounded by the Israeli government making no attempt to denounce or distance itself from Katz’s remarks, nor even to rein him in. (…) The current dispute has, like last year, brought hateful views out of the shadows, with old stereotypes about Jewish greed, power (…) finding voice. (…) These disputes over WWII history bring out the worst elements and attitudes on both sides. They trigger a vicious circle of mutually reinforcing animosity fuelled by competing, one-sided historical memories. The discourse comes to be dominated by the most extreme voices, who have a political or ideological motivation to stir things up. (…) If there is to be any real hope of overcoming these differences, and of reconciling these competing historical memories (…), the media in both countries must take far greater responsibility. This means thinking more carefully about to whom they give a platform and, while allowing different interpretations of history to be aired, refusing to permit outright misrepresentations of it.
Daniel Tilles, HAA, 26.02.19
4. Selection of Articles
Quarrel after TV comment
News anchor who said occupation makes soldiers ‘animals’ has a right to speak out
The attacks on Oshrat Kotler were so predictable. (…) The witch hunters didn’t wait a moment before jumping on Kotler’s remarks as if they were treasure. (…) The 2,200 complaints sent to the public ombudsman testify to the McCarthyite atmosphere that has spread in Israel, which doesn’t allow freedom of expression to those who don’t declaim the ultra-nationalistic talking points that are now the consensus. This was even though her opinion was expressed in response to the harsh scenes that appeared in Weiss’ report. (…) The daily friction with the Palestinian population, with the young Israeli always in the role of master and the Palestinian always playing the subject, creates the distorted reality that Kotler was complaining about. Kotler is an opinionated journalist who has the right to express her views, even if they are forceful and unacceptable to most of the Israeli public. Rather than dealing with Kotler and her remarks, it would behoove the prime minister and the chairman of Hayamin Hehadash to deal with the serious problems raised in the broadcast report.
Editorial, HAA, 17.02.19
Bad prospects for Trump’s peace plan
Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ is destined to fall through
(…) Trump’s confidants, who were responsible for wrapping up the deal, lack the creativity, the worldview and the knowledge of historical facts required to carry out this mission. Therefore, they are leaping from one Middle Eastern capital to the other, in hopes of hearing something new and refreshing. The Clinton Parameters, which (…) was rejected by the Palestinian Authority in 2000, was the only actual plan to date that was crafted to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (…) All paths always lead to Bill Clinton’s plan, but these days those guidelines seem much harder to implement. (…) Two different political schools of thought have been clashing in Israel since 1967, with the first claiming the Jewish state is capable of becoming stronger despite its control over the Palestinians, and the second arguing that dominating another nation will eventually ruin the miracle called Israel and lead to an all-out national crisis. Most of Israel’s prime ministers (…) belonged to the second school, and therefore sought to negotiate with the Palestinians, while only a tiny handful (…) believed Israel could conceivably rule over the Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also believes this with every fiber of his being, and it appears that Trump and Kushner share his view, with the proof being their intention to dust off the forgotten term “economic peace.” It would be better to regard the “deal of the century” with disillusioned cynicism (…).
Sever Plocker, YED, 27.02.19
HAA = Haaretz
YED = Yedioth Ahronoth / Ynetnews
JPO = Jerusalem Post
IHY = Israel HaYom
TOI = Times of Israel
GLO = Globes
Published: March 2019
Dr Paul Pasch,
Head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel